For Tendai Dongo, the stress and anxiety was just too much at times. A project manager at a digital education company based in Calgary, she has spent much of the pandemic balancing her job with the needs of her young daughters.
With her husband’s insurance job requiring him to be out of the house frequently, the majority of the child-care responsibilities fell to her.
Everything came to a head in December.
“I felt that I had to quit,” said Tendai Dongo, who works at Xpan Interactive Ltd. “I had to choose … a full-time career or my mental health.”
The mother of two girls aged five and eight years old told her employer that working full-time from home while parenting was causing her a lot of stress and anxiety.
“I was just going to throw in the towel. I did not have any other opportunity out there waiting for me,” said Dongo.
But the chaos of watching employees juggle school closures, virtual learning, quarantines and their jobs could lead to more empathetic workplaces. Some companies, including Dongo’s, are thinking creatively about how to build more flexible work arrangements for their employees.
A year into the pandemic, parents are feeling the effects of being tugged in all directions — particularly women.
An online survey of 1,001 working Canadians conducted between Feb. 9 and 15 by ADP Canada and Leger found half of working mothers (50 per cent) reported experiencing high stress levels due to balancing child-care obligations and work, compared to 40 per cent of working fathers.
Data released by Statistics Canada also shows pandemic job losses are disproportionately affecting women. In January, for example, the employment decline for woman was more than double that of men, with 73,000 fewer women working that month compared to 33,500 fewer men.
The numbers also showed the decline in employment was pronounced among mothers whose youngest child was between the ages of six and 12. Their employment rate fell 2.9 percentage points, compared to a drop of 0.9 percentage points for all working adults.
‘It’s really, really impossibly hard’
For Danielle Ellenor, working a full-time job as an account associate for a printing company that offered little flexibility while she was home with her young children was too overwhelming.
“It takes a huge toll on your mental health, on your kid’s mental health,” said Ellenor, an Ottawa mother of two girls aged six and seven. “It’s really, really impossibly hard.”
Her partner has been working from home too, but his management job in software sales has him in virtual meetings most of the day.
In December, knowing that more school closures were coming, Ellenor left the company she had been with for almost 10 years to focus on her kids and transition to a more flexible career in real estate.
“It’s a gamble that I decided to make,” said Ellenor.
There’s concern that many other women may drop out of the workforce permanently.
‘We could lose an entire class of future leaders’
McKinsey & Company conducted an online survey of more than 40,000 workers across Canada and the United States between June and August 2020.
The survey found that one in four women were contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.
“We would lose an entire class of future leaders and in some cases existing leaders, because it spans all the way to the highest levels of organizations,” said Alexis Krivkovich, a senior partner at the global consulting firm.
But amidst the crisis comes opportunity, she said. Some companies are finding creative ways to retain their employees, such as flexible time-off schedules, re-imagining performance management and thinking differently about working hours.
“We need more of that creative thinking now to make sure that the one in four women who are saying, ‘I’m not sure I can make it through this moment’ come out the other side,” Krivkovich said.
Letting employees chart their own paths
Vancouver-based software company Bananatag has embraced flexibility during the pandemic by coming up with a “choose your own adventure” schedule for its 130 employees.
“We are quite flexible on location, preferred work style, preferred hours,” said Agata Zasada, vice-president of people and culture at Bananatag.
With about 50 per cent of their workforce made up of women and many parents on staff, the company wanted to remove a level of uncertainty for all of its employees.
“We haven’t lost anyone through the pandemic due to not being able to be flexible enough,” said Zasada.
Post-pandemic Bananatag will continue to let employees choose their own schedules. The company also plans to become even more flexible by entertaining the idea of job sharing and becoming more project-based.
Carly Holm, founder and CEO of Holm & Company, a human resources company, is hopeful that some good will come out of this challenging year.
“We’ve proven that we can be flexible and still be successful and be productive and that nine-to-five is irrelevant,” said Holm. “It is completely arbitrary and doesn’t work for a lot of people.”
Holm’s firm offers HR services for small to medium-sized businesses. She says results of her client’s employee engagement surveys show that employees are happier when given flexibility, and that companies offering it are performing better.
“The companies that encourage that and have kind of that flexible, remote work, they’re going to be the ones that are going to retain the people, retain women,” said Holm.
COVID … has catapulted institutional mindsets around flexible work into the future– Jennifer Hargreaves, founder of Tellent
When Dongo, the project manager in Calgary, told her boss she couldn’t mentally handle being a full-time employee and a mother right now, her workplace took action.
Instead of letting her quit, Xpan Interactive came up with a solution that she says is working well.
The company dropped her workload from eight clients to one and reduced her to part-time flexible hours. She now works when she wants and when she can.
Dongo’s salary has also been reduced. She admits she and her husband have had to start dipping into their savings, but she appreciates that her company came up with a solution that allows her to stay in the workforce.
“I still have that sense of purpose that I am still continuing in my career,” said Dongo.
Creating your own flexibility
Since 2016, Jennifer Hargreaves has been an advocate for more flexibility and has successfully placed women in flexible higher paying jobs through her virtual networking platform.
“One of the benefits … of COVID is that it has catapulted institutional mindsets around flexible work into the future,” said Hargreaves, founder of Tellent, a network that provides women with access to flexible job opportunities.
Among her 10,000 members, she says the need for flexible work has skyrocketed.
The first step in finding that flexible job, according to Hargreaves, starts with your current employer. She encourages women to approach their companies, as Dongo did, to see if they can draw up new arrangements.
“There’s no better time like right now to negotiate what you want because everything’s up in the air,” Hargreaves said. “Employers are starting from scratch and they’re trying to figure out what this looks like as well.”
Apple worker says she was fired after leading movement against harassment
An Apple employee who led fellow workers in publicly sharing instances of what they called harassment and discrimination at the company said on Thursday that she had been fired.
Janneke Parrish, an Apple program manager, said the iPhone maker informed her on Thursday that she had been terminated for deleting material on company equipment while she was under investigation over the leaking of a company town hall to media. She told Reuters she denies leaking.
Parrish said she deleted apps that contained details of her finances and other personal information before handing her devices in to Apple as part of the probe.
Parrish said she believes she was fired for her activism in the workplace.
“To me, this seems clearly retaliatory for the fact that I was speaking out about abuses that have happened at my employer, pay equity and, generally, about our workplace conditions,” she said.
Apple said Friday it does not discuss specific employee matters.
Apple has recently experienced other examples of employee unrest. Last month, two Apple employees told Reuters they had filed charges https://www.reuters.com/technology/us-national-labor-relations-board-investigating-two-complaints-apple-workers-2021-09-02 against the company with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers accused Apple of retaliation and halting discussion of pay among employees, among other allegations.
Apple has said that it is “deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace” and that it takes “all concerns” from employees seriously.
U.S. law protects the right of employees to openly discuss certain topics, including working conditions, discrimination and equal pay.
Over the summer, current and former Apple employees began detailing on social media what they said were experiences of harassment and discrimination. Parrish and some colleagues began publishing the stories on social media and a publishing platform in a weekly digest titled ‘#AppleToo.’
Parrish said she was careful to respect company rules and never shared information that she believed to be confidential. She said she continued to publish the ‘#AppleToo’ digest after coming under investigation at the end of September.
“If anything, it’s made the importance of that work clearer than ever, when Apple’s response to criticism is to start internal investigations into those that it wants to see gone,” she said. “It’s easier for them to terminate people than it is for them to actually listen.”
(Reporting by Julia Love; editing by Peter Henderson and Rosalba O’Brien)
With average prices up another 14%, Swiss bank UBS warns of housing bubbles in Canada – CBC.ca
Average house prices rose 14 per cent in the past year, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Friday, adding to concerns that Canada’s most expensive real estate markets are dangerously overvalued.
The group that represents realtors across the country says the average price of a Canadian home sold on its MLS system was $686,650, almost 14 per cent higher than it was in the same month a year ago.
Canada’s inflation rate hit four per cent in August, the fastest increase in the cost of living in almost 20 years. The new data on house prices Friday means that house prices are going up at more than three times that record pace.
CREA says the average price can be misleading, since it is heavily skewed by sales in the most expensive markets of Toronto and Vancouver. It trumpets another number, known as the MLS House Price Index (HPI), as a more accurate gauge of the overall market, because it strips out some of the volatility.
But the HPI is rising by even more than the average is right now — up 21.5 per cent in the past 12 months. In the Greater Toronto area, the average price of a home that sold was $1,136,280 in September, up 18 per cent in a year, according to the local real estate board. In Vancouver, the average is 1,186,100 — up by more than 13 per cent in the past year.
“There is still a lot of demand chasing an increasingly scarce number of listings, so this market remains very challenging,” CREA chair Cliff Stevenson said.
The pandemic has had an unexpected impact on house prices in that instead of causing people to be more conservative because of the economic uncertainty, buyers have been eager to shell out for more space.
Canada’s central bank slashed its benchmark rate to help stimulate the economy through the pandemic, and when lenders passed those rates on to consumers in the form of record low mortgage rates that had the effect of pouring gasoline on the fire of housing demand, making it more affordable to borrow more and more money to buy a home.
UBS warns of bubble
The fresh numbers on prices come as a major Swiss bank was already warning that Toronto and Vancouver are home to two of the worst housing bubbles in the entire world.
In an annual ranking, UBS examines the housing markets in 24 major world cities in Europe, North America and Asia to assess them based on how expensive housing is compared to local income levels and other factors.
It then puts all the cities into one of five categories:
- Depressed housing market (a score of -1.5 or lower).
- Undervalued (-0.5 to -1.5).
- Fairly valued (-0.5 to +0.5).
- Overvalued (+0.5 to +1.5).
- Bubble (1.5 and up).
Six cities were deemed to have housing bubbles. Two of them are in Canada.
Toronto got a score of 2.02. That was higher than every other city except Frankfurt, Germany, which scored a 2.16.
Vancouver scored a 1.66, just behind Hong Kong (1.90), Munich (1.84) and Zurich (1.83).
The bank says house prices in Toronto have effectively doubled in the past decade. Government interventions through things like foreign buyers taxes and rent controls caused the market to take a breather in 2018 and 2019, but things have only accelerated since, the bank said.
“Real prices increased by almost eight per cent from mid-2020 to mid-2021,” the bank said.
The bank says price gains are being fuelled by record-low mortgage rates, which are not expected to last much longer once the Bank of Canada inevitably has to raise its rate.
That “could lead to an abrupt end to the current housing frenzy,” the bank said.
Isabel Serrano, a prospective homebuyer in Toronto, is well aware of how frothy things have gotten in the city. She and her husband have been renting for the past 15 years, and are finally ready to buy. But despite having more than $200,000 a year in combined income, the pair can’t find anything in their price range — and they keep getting outbid when they try.
In an interview with CBC News, she said she has looked at between 40 or 50 houses in the past few months, and placed offers on four. In some cases, the house sold for six figures more than the asking price.
“I never thought it was going to be this hard. I really didn’t,” she said. “It blows my mind that there are no homes to buy. It blows my mind that we cannot find a house to buy for $800,000.”
WATCH | Isabel Serrano says house prices are out of reach for people like her
‘A fast rebound’
Things don’t look much better in Vancouver. Taxes on vacant homes and foreign buyers in 2016 cooled what was then a red-hot market, as prices rose by more than 20 per cent that year. Those moves seemed to relieve some of the pressure, as prices declined by 10 per cent between 2018 and 2019.
“Since then, however, lower prices, falling mortgage rates and looser stress test rules have enticed households to buy properties again, leading to a fast rebound,” UBS said. “From mid-2020 to mid-2021, property prices increased by 11 per cent, offsetting past losses.”
High prices aren’t just bad for would-be buyers like Serrano, who plan to live in them — they don’t augur well for investors hoping to pay them off by renting them out either.
According to UBS, anyone buying an investment property with the intent to rent it out would need to rent it for 31 years in Vancouver to cover the price of buying it. In Toronto, it would take 28 years. In cities like Miami and Dubai, it’s half that.
It’s a big reason why the bank suspects both Toronto and Vancouver are in bubble territory, which UBS defines as “a substantial and sustained mispricing of an asset, the existence of which cannot be proved unless it bursts.”
UBS has no qualms calling what’s happening in Canada’s two biggest housing markets a bubble, and they aren’t the only ones.
Prof. George Fallis, who teaches economics at York University in Toronto, says the city’s housing market shows all the signs of being detached from fundamentals.
Supply and demand
“A bubble exists if you can’t explain price increases by using the normal variables we look at,” he said in an interview. “Whenever you see that kind of thing, that should be a warning light.”
Fallis says he worries some people buying today are doing so based solely on the expectation that gains in the future will be the same as those of the past, and it’s always dangerous when that happens.
“Economists are not psychologists and the psychology of frothy expectations is poorly understood. But it’s clear that it’s [caused by] something arising which sort of shocks you,” he said. The most likely trigger could be a rapid rise in interest rates, something that experts have already warned is inevitable.
“You only know a bubble exists when it bursts,” Fallis said. “It just keeps going and going and going until it doesn’t.”
Two B.C. women file constitutional challenge of vaccine card – CHEK
VANCOUVER — Two British Columbia women who say doctors advised them against getting COVID-19 vaccines have filed a constitutional challenge of the province’s vaccine passport.
A petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court says 39-year-old Sarah Webb, who lives in Alberta and B.C., developed an adverse reaction from her first dose of a vaccine in May and ended up in the emergency department of a Calgary hospital six days later.
The court document says Webb’s symptoms included fatigue, heart arrhythmias, severe pain and a rash on her arm.
It says she received antibiotics but developed further complications the next day and went to another hospital, where a doctor told her she should not get a second vaccine shot.
The petition filed against the attorney general and the Ministry of Health says Leigh Anne Eliason of Maple Ridge, B.C., was told by her doctor that she should not get a COVID-19 vaccine because of the risk of side effects due to her medical history.
Neither the Attorney General’s Ministry nor the Health Ministry could immediately provide a response to the court challenge.
The petition says both women’s physicians have written exemption letters citing their physical disabilities.
However, the petition says each of the doctors raised concerns that neither the government nor any provincial medical associations had provided guidelines on how to write such a letter or what information should be included.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the attorney general of British Columbia or the (Health Ministry) have considered individuals like the petitioners in making the vaccine card announcement or in crafting the vaccine card orders,” says the petition, which was filed on Sept. 23.
B.C. residents without proof of vaccination are prohibited from certain activities like dining in restaurants, entering movie theatres and gyms. That deprives the petitioners of their charter rights, the petition says.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated has options including ordering takeout from restaurants and watching movies and sports at home because her order is aimed at reducing transmission of the virus from anyone who may be infected.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.
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